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Merrill Lynch launches new practice management program to rev growth

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Merrill Lynch wants to rev up its growth engine with a new practice management program for its more than 14,000 advisors.

The program, Elite Growth Practice, has been more than two years in the making and has been rolled out following significant jumps in advisor productivity last year. The wirehouse’s top advisors provided insights for the program’s content.

Merrill Lynch has long offered various kinds of practice management guidance for advisors. This latest iteration was inspired by changes within the profession, according to Nilesh Parikh, teaming and practice management consulting group executive.

Teams, for instance, have gotten much larger to better serve clients’ increasingly complex needs. That evolution has effectively turned the advisor into a CEO overseeing a small enterprise. More than 80% of Merrill Lynch advisors are on a team, and there are four times as many five-person teams today as there were in 2012, according to the firm.

“When I first came to the firm, it was frowned upon to have a team,” says Jeff Price, a Merrill Lynch advisor since 1995 and head of a 13-person team in Southlake, Texas. “Think about that for a second. That’s so different from today. I have to look at this as a business and say ‘I am good at this and this, but I am going to hire talented people to fill in the gaps.’”

EGP’s launch comes as client acquisition has slowed somewhat this year in part due to the coronavirus pandemic. The wirehouse reported its advisors brought in 6,000 net new households during the second quarter, down slightly from about 7,500 net new households for the first quarter. In 2019, the firm reported a record 40,804 net new households, up 25% from the prior year.

The EGP program’s starting point is a diagnostic tool to help advisors identify their practices’ needs.

“We’re trying to shape our thinking around a shared platform about what it takes to lead an elite practice,” says Merrill’s Nilesh Parikh, teaming and practice management consulting group executive. “We did not want this to be a rote exercise. We want people to understand what they want to do with their careers,” Parikh says.

Whether they are new to the profession or 20-year veterans, Merrill Lynch advisors have four options for accessing EGP’s educational content: one-one-on coaching, workshops, collaborating with local leaders and self-directed online learning that consists of videos and reading materials.

The workshops have been conducted virtually in light of the public health crisis. That’s proven to be a boon in one respect: It’s easier to enroll advisors across the country for a webinar than to fly them all to the same location.

“Instead of one full day out of the office, which was how the workshop was designed, it’s now three stretched over time. We’re adapting,” Parikh says.

Amid coronavirus-imposed lockdowns, the firm will retool and retrain approximately 3,000 young advisors.
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Price says that if he was building his team from scratch today, the hiring sequence would be different because of how the business has changed. He’d likely start with more relationship managers, he says.

“When I come in the door every day, I am a CEO of a multimillion dollar business. If FAs would start and end their day with that lens, then they would make very smart decisions,” he says.

With regard to his burgeoning team, Price expects it to get bigger. “What stock of a company would you buy if they said, ‘Hey, we’re not going to grow anymore.’ To me, it’s built into our practice to grow,” he says.

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